Those jonesing for a true burst mage in Heroes of the Storm may have been disappointed with the release of Jaina Proudmoore late last year. Don’t get me wrong, Jaina offers excellent damage potential, but her frost magic themed kit puts significant emphasis on utility and control. If you were looking for the other side of that squishy mage coin, the one that just wants to burninate everything, well you may want to get patching, because Blizzard just released Kael’Thas the Sun King – and this guy really brings the heat.
Comparisons are often helpful, so I would say Kael’thas’ design is fairly similar to Brand from League of Legends, and I’m not just talking about the fire. Brand is a burst mage, but a lot of his damage is delayed, he’s got no escapes to speak of, and like any mage, he’s pretty squishy.
Some of Kael’thas’ abilities are similar, too. Flamestrike is a delayed AoE attack similar to Brand’s Pillar of Flame. His one crowd control option is Gravity Lapse, a line skillshot that stuns the first target it hits (like Sear), and one of Kael’thas’ ultimates, Pyroblast, is similar to Brand’s Pyroclasm. While Pyroblast doesn’t bounce from target to target, it does move slowly, track its target, and deal incredible amounts of AoE damage if other players are in the blast radius when it goes off. Insane damage aside, Pyroblast (like Pyroclasm) can make the enemy team disperse, which can dramatically affect the way a team fight plays out. Kael’thas’ second ultimate, Phoenix, also applies a ton of AoE pressure in a teamfight with a high amount of sustained damage. It’s not nearly as fun as a slow moving, inescapable orb of death, though.
Many of Brand’s skills also trigger additional affects when interacting with the ablaze condition applied by his passive, Blaze. In Kael’thas’ case, these same sorts of interactions can be found in the use of his trait, Verdant Spheres. Activating Verdant Spheres allows Kael’thas to empower his next basic ability cast with different effects. Flamestrike gains increased radius and damage, the cooldown and mana cost of Living Bomb is removed (allowing you to immediately cast another on your target, instantly triggering the delayed explosion), and Gravity Lapse will stun the first three enemies it hits instead of just the one. Combined with Kael’thas’ many interesting talents, there appear to be many ways to tailor your build, and more power to choose exactly how you want to make use of the bonus interactions it provides.
My favorite build at the moment is one where I choose talents that buff Living Bomb, such as Fission Bomb and Chain Bomb, which increase Living Bomb’s delayed explosion damage significantly and applies the Living Bomb effect to all other targets that get caught in the blast. I also pick up Ignite, which applies Living Bomb to all targets that are hit with Flamestrike. In a teamfight, using Verdant Spheres to trigger a massive Flamestrike (in both damage and radius) can catch the whole team in a huge spike of damage while simultaneously applying Living Bomb to all targets, exploding seconds later for yet another layer of unexpected spike damage. Toss in a Pyroblast for good measure and you can rack up some insane kills if the enemy team isn’t wise enough to (or can’t) spread apart. Playing Kael’thas really drives the feeling of harnessing the raw destructive power of fire to do the sorts of area of affect carnage you would expect from a character like this (WAR’s Bright Wizard, anyone?). Of course, there are drawbacks. Unlike Jaina with her access to slows, roots, and Ice Block, Kael’thas doesn’t really have much in the way of protecting himself, so if enemies sneeze at you, especially with the build outlined above, you’re likely going to die before you even realize it. Positioning is key to your survival with a build like this.
For those of you willing to trade some of Kael’thas’ destructive power for a bit more protection, look into the talents Mana Tap and Arcane Barrier. Mana Tap will expand your maximum mana for each Regeneration Globe you pick up throughout the match, which is helpful on its own, because Kael’thas runs out of juice pretty quickly. However, once you get to level 16, Arcane Barrier will allow you to grant yourself a temporary shield valued at 200% of your maximum mana. For League of Legends players, think of it like activating Seraph’s Embrace. If you’re really a wuss and want to trade even more power away for safety, you can also pick up the standard Bolt of the Storm talent at level 20 to give yourself a short teleport so you can get away in a dicey situation. I just prefer going all in with Kael’thas and utilizing good positioning to keep me alive long enough to shred the enemy team.
I by no means claim to have cracked the Kael’thas code in the little I’ve played him so far, but I do feel that at the very least, Blizzard’s knocked it out of the park with the character’s deceptively simple and straightforward design. Kael’thas is just plain fun. My only concern is whether or not he fits into the larger picture of Heroes of the Storm’s metagame. In a vacuum, Kael’thas seems awesome, but it’s just far too early to say how he stacks up against the overall cast.